Pakistan’s ISI, widely acknowledged to be in a stronger position in wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, may be eyeing a more aggressive strategy in J&K, according to sources in the Indian security establishment.
As part of this tactic, activated even before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, ISI has already been pushing its “protégé” terrorist outfits LeT, JeM and Al-Badr into the Union Territory since the past two months.
A source in the Indian central security establishment told TOI that around 200 terrorists are currently active in J&K, with the share of foreign terrorists matching that of local ultras. “Eventually, they will indulge in terror attacks as and when ISI directs,” said the source.
Determined to neutralise these efforts by ISI, the Indian security forces have further fortified the border grid and increased surveillance and manpower along the Pakistan border. To ensure the infiltrated terrorists do not get easy hideouts in Kashmir’s villages, the J&K police are aggressively tracking down overground workers who are likely to give shelter to the foreign terrorists and also facilitate their missions.
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Sources said since January this year, around 500 overground workers have been arrested. “We are closely watching more suspected ones, some of whom try to project themselves as ‘nationalists’, and will crack down upon them in the days ahead,” said a security officer.
A senior intelligence functionary told TOI that the Indian agencies do not link the revival of infiltration and terror launchpads across the border in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to the events in Afghanistan and see them more as part of ISI’s gameplan to throw caution, hitherto prompted by the fear of blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to the wind and up the ante in J&K. Yet, there are genuine concerns about some of the weapons and military equipment left behind by the US forces as well as trained terrorist cadres from Afghanistan finding their way into J&K because of ISI’s nexus with the Taliban and groups active on its western frontier.
Sources in J&K police said infiltration has picked up since July along the border in north Kashmir as well as Jammu region. Terror launchpads and infiltration routes are noticeably active in Bandipore, Kupwara and Baramulla, while terrorist activity is mostly concentrated in south Kashmir.
A source said foreign terrorists and narcotics traffickers usually infiltrate from north Kashmir and stay in hideouts there before coming down south. Infiltrators headed for south Kashmir, a terror hub with Srinagar currently reporting the highest terror activity, infiltrate mostly through Jammu and then move to the Valley by road. Foreign terrorists traditionally outnumber local terrorists in north Kashmir; south Kashmir mostly has local recruits from districts like Anantnag, Srinagar and Shopian.
A new concern among the security establishment in J&K is the engagement of locals by terrorist outfits for small acts like grenade throwing, rather than their being given a longer role in their terror activities.
“These locals are paid good money for a one-off assignment. They mostly do the limited job and then merge into the civilian population. So it becomes very difficult to track them and get anything concrete to nail them,” said a police officer.